In the shadow of a hit-and-run tragedy, one local family is hoping to spare others the same grief they felt while helping victims, supporting law enforcement, and honoring their own loved one.
Dawn Elliott knows firsthand what it’s like to lose someone to a hit-and-run crash — her mother Deborah Ann Geneau was killed last year in Bakersfield. And she doesn’t want to see anyone one else to be affected. She and her husband started Helping HART (Hit-and-Run Tragedies), which aims to raise awareness of these crimes, help hit-and-run victims and their families, and help fund law enforcement by providing much-needed resources.
Chain | Cohn | Stiles is proud to support the cause by sponsoring this nonprofit organization. The law firm also represents the family of Geneau, as well as other local hit-and-run victims, and knows too well the devastation caused by hit-and-run drivers.
Stephanie Heninger was arrested and pleaded not guilty to vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and hit-and-run charges connected to the July 22 crash near CSU Bakersfield. The family of Deborah Geneau and Bakersfield law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles had offered a reward to $7,500 for the person who helped identify the driver of a 2013-2019 dark gray Nissan Sentra that was suspected of causing the crash on Stockdale Highway near Don Hart Drive.
Police learned through GPS location data that Heninger had been at the scene of the crash, according to a probable cause declaration reported by KGET-17. Police also obtained a statement from Heninger confirming she was the driver who left the scene, according to reports. The vehicle in the incident was seized in Riverside County, Bakersfield Police reported. While police received several tips, police investigations ultimately led to the arrest. The court case is ongoing.
Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed lawsuits on behalf of the Geneau family against two other driver’s involved in the fatal crash. Both of those drivers were also speeding 10-15 mph above the 55 mph speed limit at the time of the collision, according to police.
At a press conference in July 2020 at Chain | Cohn | Stiles, Debbie’s husband Rick Geneau and their daughter Dawn shared about their loss, and pleaded with the driver who caused the collision to turn him or herself in. Rick met Debbie met when they were both 14 years old. At the time of Debbie’s death, they had had been married for 45 years. Dawn Elliott told media she feels she’s had to take on her mother’s role and be the strength of the family during this time.
“You’ve not only taken my mom’s life, you’ve taken a piece of all of our lives.”
Dawn and her husband Joe Elliott Jr. founded the nonprofit Helping HART just one year after the crash to honor mother and grandmother Deborah Geneau. And they’re not alone.
In 2019, the United States saw more than 2,000 fatalities due to hit-and-run crashes, according to national statistics provided on the Helping HART website.
“That means 2,005 people have been ripped away from the people who loved them,” the website states. “That is 2,005 men, women, grandparents, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends stolen away in a senseless act of cowardice.”
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, an average of one hit-and-run accident happens in the United States every minute.
“Everyone knows accidents happen, but people should not run from their mistakes by leaving the scene having no regard for doing the right thing,” according to Helping HART.
The nonprofit will offer assistance through home remodels or vehicle modifications to anyone who has developed handicaps as a result of hit-and-run crashes, and offer scholarships to children who lost a parent to a hit-and-run, Dawn Elliott told KGET-17 News.
“I will be able to continue doing things in memory of my mom,” Dawn told KGET. “Therefore, my mom is still with me. Helping me. Really neat that I get to work with my mom for the rest of my life.”
If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form, text, or chat with us at chainlaw.com.